Rand Smith and Sadra Bostick star in Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “South Pacific,” running through Sept. 22.
LARGO - “South Pacific” is a moving classic filled with wonderful melodies, simultaneously upbeat and heartbreaking.
Richard Rodgers composed the musical, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. It premiered in 1949 on Broadway. Things were different: American audiences were less cynical and less jaded – and more charitable and broadminded.
Based on stories found in James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tales of the South Pacific,” “South Pacific” revolves around two romances. It also depicts a burgeoning shift in values that was beginning to change the cultural landscape.
Eight O’Clock Theatre delivers a rousing, engaging “South Pacific” that reminds audiences that this show is more than a simple love story. “South Pacific” runs through Sept. 22. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets are $25.50. Call 587-6793 or visit largoarts.com.
The action takes place on a small island in the South Pacific during World War II. The American military has been stationed there and is actively trying to dislodge the Japanese from the region.
Ensign Nellie Forbush – a nurse – falls in love with French plantation owner Emile de Becque. Her feelings for him are put to the test when she discovers he has two children – and that he was previously married to a Polynesian woman. Nellie wrestles with her own entrenched prejudice.
Meanwhile, in a parallel story, Lt. Joseph Cable falls for Liat, a native islander. Cable – from a wealthy Philadelphia family – wants to marry her, but can’t bring himself to because of his own racial intolerance.
The dual romances play out in the timeless, soaring music of Rodgers and the eloquent lyrics of Hammerstein – songs such as "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Younger Than Springtime." The production’s keynote address on the theme of racism is supplied by the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a piece that carries as much relevance today as it did 60-odd years ago.
Director Linda Woodruff Weir readily acknowledges that the theme remains topical in her notes.
“I think that ‘South Pacific’ is as relevant today as it was when it was first written over 50 years ago,” she writes. “The music is timeless … most of our audience will recognize every single song in the show. But the two love stories are even more urgent as they draw us into the ever-present discussion of race and prejudice.”
Eight O’Clock Theatre audiences will find themselves immersed in the spectacle of “South Pacific.” The production features a talented, enthusiastic cast including a number of EOT veterans such as Rand Smith, Sadra Bostick and Nick Abounader. The meticulously constructed set and colorful, stylish backdrop certainly helps establish the milieu.
James Grenelle’s marvelously adaptable choreography is exuberant and sprightly when appropriate, slick and stirring at other moments. It’s during the lively, studiously choreographed numbers like “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” and “Honey Bun” that the show scores some of its most memorable moments.
The dominant love story, between Ensign Nellie Forbush and Emile De Becque, is made compelling by leads Smith and Bostick. Bostick’s Nellie is suitably charming with her rural Arkansas accent. She doesn’t play it too cute – her Nellie may be a bit naïve, but she’s no pushover. Vocally, she demonstrates her talent in numbers such as “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Outa My Hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”
Nick Abounader portrays Lt. Joseph Cable, delivering a credible performance of a man struggling with indoctrinated bigotry.
The production boasts two standout performances. Mona Lim plays Bloody Mary. Lim imbues the character with bawdy charisma. Stephan Bielawski plays Seabee Luther Billis, the comedic central core of the musical. Bielawski underscores the importance of the character – the kind of noble, wheeling-dealing everyman who keeps the world moving, keeps the crowd smiling and gets the job done no matter the odds and obstacles.
Two other supporting actresses must be praised: Emile’s daughters, Ngana and Iritana, are played by Kiersten Steagall and Kortney Steagall, both age 7. The two have been performing since age 3. They do an outstanding job on stage.
Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “South Pacific” is gorgeous and entertaining. It evokes the optimism of another era and gives a glimpse of the societal transformation that was just beginning. Despite the fact that some of the material is dated, the love stories in “South Pacific” remain emotionally stirring and the theme of racism is certainly relevant.